Western Lessons

I have crossed the American West, particularly Montana, several times in the last two years. The first time was by car, via Interstates 90 and 84, when some friends and I were traveling from Seattle to Friends General Conference (FGC). After that, I started visiting my beloved, Adrian, in Chicago. The trips, and what I’ve learned subsequently, have taught me vital lessons about what Friends—and indeed, all humans—are now called to do.

The friends I traveled with to FGC are dedicated environmentalists. One is the founder of the Seattle chapter of 350.org, and the other is her daughter, who planned and led a protest against climate change at the Federal Building in downtown Seattle before she left for college this fall. As we crossed the western plains we saw hundreds of windmills, generating electricity with no carbon required, and we were cheered to see them. But as we drove we reflected on the emissions we were pumping out, for even though we were driving a Prius, we were still burning oil. Continue reading

Ferguson Queries

As I was coming home from work the other night, a song came up on my headphones: “The Suburbs,” by Arcade Fire. I have always thought of that particular piece as a “prophecy song,” in large part because of the music video, which can be found here. It’s about six minutes long, and I encourage all to watch it.

For those who are unable to watch, the video centers on five friends, in their early teens, enjoying their life among wealthy suburbs, riding bikes, playing with BB guns, roughhousing, and in general becoming fast companions. But they live in a slightly different America, a dystopia, set against the background of, as the song lyrics say, “a suburban war—your part of town against mine.” Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Occasionally people are dragged from their homes in the depths of night. Military helicopters fly overhead, trucks and tanks are common sights. And gradually this background seeps into the foreground, as the twisted world the kids live in begins to destroy their friendship, culminating in an act of brutal violence.

As I listened to the song on my headphones, I thought of the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri—the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed, unarmed, prompting protests and riots. I thought of the militarized police that has been so aggressive and so criticized in Ferguson. And it finally hit me, years too late: Continue reading

Want to Bet?

Today, campers, we’re going to talk about global warming. If you already believe in that, you can go play outside―or stay and watch the show, if you like, but this is specifically aimed at those who don’t think the planet is changing temperature. In fact I’m going to break my normal practice and refer directly to my skeptical audience as “you.”

Before we get started, a few definitions. What I mean by global warming―more properly termed climate change or climate chaos―is the average temperature of our planet climbing, generally because of an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “greenhouse effect” has been pretty well proved by the example of Venus, which is in fact warmer than Mercury due to carbon dioxide.

Note that I say nothing of what’s causing this increase in CO2. That’s because the effects of the increase are much the same regardless of whether it’s a natural process or man-made. Many people have pointed out that the recent increases in CO2 levels and average temperature are well within the extremes that Earth has experienced, according to the geologic record. This is true… but irrelevant, here. Continue reading